Top Satellite Launches to Watch in 2024
A number of anticipated satellite programs finally got off the ground in 2023. Unfortunately, some of those satellites including the first ViaSat-3, and four of the O3b mPOWER satellites, have experienced on-orbit issues, forcing operators to recalibrate their strategies.
In this round-up, we take stock of 2024 and look at some of the top commercial satellites expected to launch this year. Lots of satellites are on deck for 2024! (Note, this list is not exhaustive.)
First up, a report card of last year. From last year’s list, we watched ViaSat-3, Hughes Network Systems’ Jupiter 3, and the Amazon Kuiper prototypes launch. However, Maxar WorldView Legion did not launch, and kicks off the list for 2024.
Maxar WorldView Legion
Where in the world is WorldView Legion? Maxar’s next-generation Earth imaging constellation has been delayed for years. This past year, Maxar stopped providing public updates after it was acquired by private equity firm Advent International, taking the company private.
In late 2022, Maxar targeted a January 2023 launch, but that slipped by and there were no further updates in 2023. Maxar representatives did not respond to a request to comment.
The anticipated WorldView Legion constellation will provide a boost to Maxar’s Earth observation capacity. The constellation includes six satellites, but Maxar previously said the Advent International acquisition would accelerate the constellation with satellites seven and eight. We’ll be paying attention to launch plans for WorldView Legion in 2024.
Ovzon 3 will be the first proprietary satellite for Swedish satcom company Ovzon, which invested in its own satellite as it is rolling out satcom-as-a-service capabilities. Designed by Maxar, the satellite has faced numerous delays, pushing it from a 2022 launch, to late 2023 and now early 2024. The satellite is ready to launch and waiting at Cape Canaveral for favorable weather conditions with launch provider SpaceX, targeting early January.
The satellite will give Ovzon full control of its coverage and networks, and speeds of up to 100 Mbps /200 Mbps. CEO Per Norén spoke with Via Satellite in 2022, saying the satellite will “revolutionize” the company’s satcom-as-a-service offering and allow service for new generations of small, mobile satellite terminals.
Amazon Kuiper Satellites
2024 is set to be a big year for Project Kuiper, Amazon’s broadband Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation. The first two prototype satellites are currently on orbit, and Amazon has validated the network including making a two-way video call, and also demonstrating optical inter-satellite links onboard the satellites. Amazon says it is preparing for full-scale deployment in the first half of 2024. The company plans to have enough satellites in orbit to begin early customer pilots in the second half of 2024. Amazon is facing an FCC deadline to have half of its constellation launched by July 2026.
Viasat still has two satellites to launch in its ViaSat-3 constellation, F2 and F3. In a recent letter to shareholders, Viasat said the F3 antenna is from a different supplier from F1, so it’s not affected by the anomaly. F3 has a launch contract for the fourth quarter of 2024.
Viasat said in the letter that the F2 satellite has the same antenna as the F1 anomaly, and an investigation is underway to determine corrective actions. Viasat said the details of the fix will drive the launch schedule, so it’s unclear if we will see F2 launch in 2024.
Viasat also said that either F2 or F3 will replace the spot of ViaSat-3 F1 over the Americas, so it will be interesting to see which region Viasat relocates — either Europe, Middle East, and Africa, or the Asia-Pacific region.
O3b mPOWER 7 and 8
SES is targeting O3b mPOWER satellites 7 and 8 to launch in the second half of 2024, with modifications for the power trip-offs on the earlier satellites. With the issues on the initial satellites, SES had to push back the start of commercial service for its mPOWER constellation, and expects to start commercial service early in the second quarter of 2024.
Also, according to its most recent financial report, SES also expects the ASTRA 1P broadcast satellite to launch in the second half of 2024.
Thuraya 4-NGS, built by Airbus, will be the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) next-generation L-band telecommunications satellite. The satellite will increase capacity and coverage over Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and enable mobility solutions. In Yahsat’s most recent financial results, the company confirmed that Thuraya-4 remains on track for launch in 2024 and entry into service in the first half of 2025.
Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission
The Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission (ASBM) is a two-satellite constellation that will provide communication capabilities in the Northern polar region, and it’s an interesting collaboration between government and commercial, U.S. and international. ASBM is a combined effort between the U.S. Space Force, Space Norway, and Northrop Grumman.
Built by Northrop Grumman, the satellites primary payload is the Enhanced Polar System Recapitalization (EPS-R) payloads for the Space Force. The satellites also carry hosted payloads including an X-Band payload for the Norwegian Ministry of Defense, a Ka-Band payload for Viasat, and the Norwegian Radiation Monitor payload commissioned by the European Commission. The Viasat payloads, GX10A and 10B, for the Inmarsat Global Xpress service, will be Viasat’s first in Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) payloads.
The two ASBM satellites are set to launch to Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California in mid-2024.
AST SpaceMobile’s BlueBird Commercial Satellites
AST SpaceMobile is in the race to provide connectivity from space directly to cell phones on Earth. After validating its demonstration satellite in 2023, the company is preparing for its first five “BlueBird” commercial satellites to launch in the first quarter of 2024. With these five satellites, AST SpaceMobile is targeting initial commercial service for both mobile network operators and governmental entities starting next year.
Astranis is building MicroGEO satellites to provide connectivity, which are much smaller than traditional GEO satellites. The company’s first satellite launched along with ViaSat-3 in April 2023, but unfortunately had an issue with a solar array which stopped the satellite from fulfilling its primary mission.
So the pressure is on for its four satellites set to launch in 2024. Astranis booked a dedicated Falcon 9 launch, which will loft multi-mission UtilitySat, two satellites for Anuvu to support in-flight connectivity for Southwest Airlines, and Agila, a dedicated broadband satellite for the Philippines. Check out this cool in-orbit visualization of Astranis’s fleet deployment plan.
That’s a wrap! We’ll also be watching the first United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur mission set for January, carrying Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander, and other potential rocket debuts like Ariane 6, Blue Origin’s New Genn, and Starship.